Saturday, January 30, 2010

Snow in the Capitol

So the forecast for this weekend has included snow all week but it kept ting pushed further and further back. It was supposed to snow last night so I awoke thinking I would find a winter wonderland outside the house. Instead I found no snow at all, so I thought the snow had passed us by. However, shortly after beginning my day at the WWII memorial I was greeted by the first soft feathery flakes falling to the earth. The snow continued unabated throughout the day and is still continuing to fall even as I type this message. It was a very cold and wet day, but was also absolutely beautiful and I greatly enjoyed it! I thought to stick my camera in my bag this morning and captured a few images of some of the more well known fixtures of the mall. I have a attached a few of those pictures. Look for more on facebook!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Moments in Life

Life has certainly continued to be an adventure here in Washington DC! It is exciting to be posted at a different site each day so that I have a unique experience every time I go to work. Combined with the variety of people who are visiting, it is keeping life interesting and exciting! Here are a few highlights of the moments in life that I have experienced in the last week...

~After being on my feet and working at the Washington Monument for about seven hours we had a child decide to puke all over the end of the x-ray machine which meant the whole operation had to shut down for about a half hour in order to deal with the "bio-hazard." Luckily I did not have to clean it up! But I did get to smell the lovely fumes emitting from the security area after the event!

~When I was at WWII on Monday I encountered a mom out with her three kids, eight year old twins (a boy and girl) and a ten year old girl. They were looking at the bas-reliefs seen at the entry to the memorial when I walked up to them and engaged them in conversation. That contact ended up resulting in an hour and a half of going through and discussing the panels and the war with these three kids. It was very exciting because it was so different that what I am usually doing, and because they were so interested. Their grandfather had landed at Normandy and been shot through the hip during the fighting that ensued in the French countryside. We have a total of 24 bas-relief panels depicting different moments of the war, some of combat and others on the home front. I took them to the twelve on the north side, which depict events connected with the European theater and that is where we spent an hour and a half. One of the panels depicts the amphibious landing and Normandy and another several medics carrying a soldier on a stretcher. So I was very easily able to connect the panels to the story of their grandfather. It was a very special time.

~I also gave the MLK program at Lincoln again, this time to a group of about fifty. Though nowhere near the scale of what happened on MLK day it was still very moving to speak about such momentous events in that place. And this time the stereo worked so I got to hear Dr. King's voice rather than my own. There is such power in those words!

~Saturday was "pie day" so last Friday I successfully baked a crunch top apple pie and took it in to join the others in a celebration of sugar and unhealthiness. I think my final tally was eight slices of pie throughout the day! (they were all small, but that is still a ridiculous quantity of pie!)

~Yesterday I made two different trips into Virginia that resulted in a glass top coffee table, small card table that I can use for scrapbooking, games, etc. and a small dining room table and four chairs. I had to drive pretty far to pick them up, but I got all the tables for free. God is definitely providing for me in that way! I also gave blood at the red cross, which turned out to be quite a painful experience as the lady who actually took my blood did not do it correctly. But I was able to tangibly help by giving blood to help replace the stores that are being shipped to Haiti. 

So life continues to be filled with the unexpected, he miraculous, and special and unforgettable moments. It is such moments that make up the fabric of our lives. 

Monday, January 18, 2010

Honoring Dr. King's Dream

So today I was posted at the "triangle" for the first time. The triangle consists of the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the Korean Veterans Memorial (the three form the shape of a triangle in case you were confused). I ended up not having any time to prepare for today so I went in blind this morning, not having any specific research or preparation done for these sites. I ended up being posted at Vietnam in the morning and then at Lincoln in the afternoon. When I arrived at Vietnam I met a guy who has been volunteering at the site for more than 17 years. He asked me if I was comfortable doing talks at the memorial and I told him that there was a lot I didn't know so anything he could share with me would be appreciated. That comment resulted in a two and a half hour tour and explanation of all sorts of topics related to the memorial, including the war itself, the story of the memorial and its construction, and personal anecdotes about many of the names on the wall including the name of an air force pilot who was listed as MIA but whose remains were later identified in the tomb of the unknown soldier. So now I know much much more about Vietnam than I did this morning!

I was supposed to be at Vietnam until 2:00 and move up to Lincoln at that point, but at about 12:10 the ranger in charge of operations at the triangle today came to me while I was eating lunch and asked me if I could do the 1:00 MLK presentation at Lincoln. Things had changed and some rangers had to be shifted so there was no one to cover the program at Lincoln. Keep in mind that I have never even worked at Lincoln and had had no time to prepare anything to do a talk about Lincoln and the memorial, much less a special talk about Martin Luther King Jr. Well I of course said yes and suddenly found myself faced with the prospect of trying to put together a program out of my head since I had no resources available and then going to give that program out in front of Lincoln in about half an hour while also finishing lunch.

When I went out to the front steps ten minutes before 1:00 I was greeted with a surprising sight. Typically programs I have been giving have been for audiences ranging from 2-10 people. It was immediately evident that this program was going to be very different. I found myself looking at a crowd of people covering the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and spilling into the plaza below. As I walked out I was quickly approached by several people asking if I was going to be doing the one o'clock program and I realized that all of these people were waiting to hear the program that I was about to give. We typically do a short talk about the "I have a dream" speech and play a selection from the speech on the lower plaza of the Lincoln steps each day, but I had come up with an idea that was rather larger than the norm on account of it being the day that it was and once I saw the crowd that was gathered I decided that rather than doing the program on the lower level I would instead do it on the upper landing from the very same location that Dr. King delivered his speech 47 years ago. 

So I embraced the moment and essentially improvised a 15-20 minute talk with no notes to a crowd of more than 500 people gathered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I began with Jefferson and spoke of the ideals of freedom and equality that he has espoused and how they found voice in the Declaration of Independence. That led me into a discussion of Lincoln and his work to preserve these same values in which I quoted the Gettysburg Address on three different occasions and spoke about him setting events in motion that found greater fruition nearly 80 years later when Marian Anderson performed in concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in spite of a clearly prejudiced refusal of indoor venues due to the color of her skin. That led me to discuss the planned march on Washington in 1941 by A. Phillip Randolph and others that was canceled due to the intervention of FDR who asked them to stop the march and took action to create greater equality in the workplace. This action was son overshadowed by the US entrance into WWII and many young black men enlisted and served in the ranks of the US armed forces, finding equality amidst the horror of war. But upon returning to America these same men found that they would not be treated in the same fashion at home and rising discontent found a voice in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Sit-ins, and other planned action to fight for civil rights. This in turn led to a revival of the planned march on Washington, only this time the march would take place in late summer of 1963 and would be organized by all of the "big six" civil rights organizations and would culminate in a series of ten speeches delivered from the steps on the Lincoln Memorial, an icon to freedom and equality. 

Though each of the first nine speakers at this event were notable figures in the Civil Rights movement, it was the last speaker, a young minister coming from Montgomery, Alabama that was the focal point of the crowd. And true to expectation when he took his place at the podium Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr invoked the bible, Shakespeare, the Declaration of Independence, The Gettysburg address, and the song "my country tis of thee" as he spoke to a crowd of more than half a million listeners about his dream of equality and freedom, a dream that his four children would one day be judged on the content of their character and not the color of their skin. 

After this setup I then told the gathered crowd that I was going to let Dr. King speak for himself and pressed the play button on the stereo to play a recording of Dr. King's speech in its entirety. Things were great for the first 20 seconds and then the audio cut out. It just stopped and I couldn't get it to come back on. So here I was, in front of all of these people and the speech wasn't going to play. I didn't know what to do. And then someone in the crowd produced a transcript of the speech, which I found in my hands and I suddenly knew exactly what I had to do. So I turned back to the crowd, apologized for the failure of technology, and declared that though I was certainly not Dr. King, I was going to do the best I could to capture the essence of his character as I read the words he spoke from that very spot on August 28, 1963. And I proceeded to deliver the speech in its entirely to a crowd of 500+ from the very spot that Dr. King had once uttered the very same words. 

It was one of the most powerful and moving experiences of my entire life. As I came to the closing words of the speech in which Dr. King quotes the old hymn declaring, "free at last, free at last, thank God almighty I am free at last" I was met with a roar of applause and nearly brought to tears as I realized that I had unwittingly just participated in something that transcended my position as a park guide in Washington DC, something that reflected the very core of who we have been created to be, of the better angels of our nature as Lincoln might have said. 

I spent the next twenty minutes talking to the crowd and then realized I was the only ranger on site which meant that I was responsible for the 2:00 talk about Lincoln, which I proceeded to also do on the fly, giving a 25 minute talk on Lincoln and the memorial to a crowd of more than fifty who followed me around inside the chamber. I repeated this talk at 4:00 as well. Quite the first day a the site!

After getting off the work two other rangers and I decided to walk to the Kennedy Center in order to attempt to attend a special concert by India Arie in celebration of Dr. King. We were actually not able to get inside the main auditorium, but were able to watch the event via video feed on a large screen in the lobby, and thus still participate to some degree. The reason we were unable to get inside is that when we were nearing the building just before six we were stopped outside so that President Obama could enter the building for a special surprise appearance and speech. So I got to listen to his speech while watching him on video in the room next door. Since we were outside the main auditorium we were among the first people to exit the building following the event and made it outside just before they temporarily shut the building down so that the presidential motorcade could exit the Kennedy Center and return the president to the White House. So I ended up standing on the sidewalk directly in front of the presidential motorcade as Obama and company passed in front of me. I was still in full uniform, which is significant because there are certain situations in which any unformed Park Ranger must stand at full attention and hold a full salute. These situations do not occur in most parks, but in Washington DC things are a little different. Once such situation is when the president of the United States is passing. So I stood at full and proper salute, in uniform, as President Obama passed in front of me. 

It was a day to remember.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Ranging in Washington DC!

So I am now officially a park ranger in Washington DC! It is very different from what I experienced at Wind Cave last summer, but I think I am really going to enjoy it a lot. There is an incredible amount of diversity in terms of what I am talking about here! I am basically covering every facet of American history from Colonial America all the way through the Vietnam War! It is a bit overwhelming, but I am sure I will be able to manage. :) It is invigorating and stimulating to be in an environment in which I can both draw upon so much from my previous studies and knowledge and also learn so many new things! It is a very different experience living here, but I have found a house to live in right in the main part of Washington DC within easy walking distance of the metro, which I am using to go into work each day. It seems like I am working with a good group of people, though there are 110 rangers working on the mall, so there are many I have not even met yet! One of the other new hires actually worked at Wind Cave the summer before I did and we have become fast friends.

I just got internet access last night so now I will actually be able to check email and do things online with some consistency! And I have cell phone service! Both very different from Wind Cave!

My address here in DC is as follows....

2125 4th St. NE
Washington DC, 20002

It is rather funny to ride the metro and walk around in a park ranger uniform in the middle of the city. All the other new employees are not in uniform, but with everything I already had (including the felt flat hat which I got this last summer even though I didn't have to yet) I have been able to put together a full uniform, which makes me look much more official and legitimate! We went through five days of training and then started on the job, actually being on site and interacting with visitors. I am not required to give talks, but I really want to so of course I am! I actually gave three talks at the WWII memorial the first day I was posted anywhere and spent the entire day out in the memorial talking to people. Just that one day was an amazing experience that was filled with unique and significant moments. Here are a few examples....

-I met a guy who was in the army during the war and stationed here in the US, but was set to ship out to the Pacific theater on August 7, 1945. That is the day after we dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. So from his perspective, the bomb kept him here in the US and meant he did not have to go and invade the mainland of Japan

-I met another veteran who served in the Pacific Theater in the Navy and was a part of the naval action surrounding Guadalcanal and other major conflict in the pacific

-Another guy started talking to me about how significant the memorial is to him because of how important WWII and the American involvement of America in it is to him as a Jew. He went on to tell me that he was from Israel and that the American involvement in the war was important to him, not only because it ended the Holocaust and removed Hitler from power, but also because it led to Israel becoming its own nation in 1948. He had come all the way here just to see that memorial.

And that is just a small selection from that day, my first day on the job! In addition to the actual job I am ideally positioned to see so much of American history. I spent five and a half hours going through the Holocaust Museum on Wednesday, which was very emotional and moving. Then that night I watched the movie "Inglorious Basterds," which was a perfect movie to watch after being so angry with Hitler and what he did!

In addition to my own joy in what I am doing, it seems as though my supervisors like me and that i have made a favorable impression. That was helped very much by me unknowingly making a very positive impression on a woman who I spoke to at WWII on Sunday. It just so happens that this woman is the Deputy Regional Director for the Pacific West region of the Parks service and upon returning from the memorial she took the trouble to write to her counterpart here on the East Coast, who then forwarded said comments to the higher ups at the mall, who passed in on to my supervisors who not only passed it on to me, but also read it aloud in front of the entire night shift when they were coming on tonight. Here is what she wrote...

"On my first day in DC I was roaming around enjoying the mall... ran across many of your staff, but most notably a really great interpreter at the WWII memorial named Garrett Radke. He was engaging, very knowledgeable, answering questions and volunteering information, making proactive contacts, letting visitors know (to their surprise) that they were in a national park, where else they might want to visit, and wearing the uniform well - including flathat - in this cold weather. Very professional, made us look good. And it turns out it's his first day on the job! Good hire."

Now that's confirmation! And then after I was made aware of this, the guy who hired me, who is also one of my supervisors, told me that I am doing a "kick-ass job," which made me laugh, but also think that I am in a good place! Who knows what will happen next?